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The Huntley-Brinkley Report (sometimes known as The Texaco Huntley-Brinkley Report, for one of its early sponsors) was the NBC television network's flagship evening news program from October 29, 1956 until July 31, 1970. It was anchored by Chet Huntley in New York Citymarker, and David Brinkley in Washington, D.C.marker It succeeded the Camel News Caravan, anchored by John Cameron Swayze. The program ran for 15 minutes at its inception but expanded to 30 minutes in September 1963. It was developed and produced initially by Reuven Frank. Frank left the program in 1962 to produce documentaries (Eliot Frankel replaced him) but returned to the program the following year when it expanded to 30 minutes. He was succeeded as executive producer in 1965 by Robert "Shad" Northshield and in 1969 by Wallace Westfeldt.

Overview

Background

By 1956, NBC executives had grown dissatisfied with Swayze in his role anchoring the network's evening news program, which had, the previous year, fallen behind its competition, CBS's Douglas Edwards with the News. Network executive Ben Park suggested replacing Swayze with Chet Huntley and David Brinkley, who had garnered favorable attention anchoring NBC's coverage of the national political conventions that summer. Bill McAndrew, NBC's director of news (later NBC News president), had seen a highly rated local news program on NBC affiliate WSAZ-TVmarker in Huntington, West Virginiamarker, with two anchors reporting from different cities. He replaced Camel News Caravan with the Huntley-Brinkley Report, which premiered on October 29, 1956, with Huntley in New York and Brinkley in Washington. Producer Reuven Frank, who had advocated pairing Huntley and Brinkley for the convention coverage, thought using two anchors on a regular news program "was one of the dumber ideas I had ever heard." Nonetheless, on the day of the new program's first broadcast, Frank authored the program's closing line, "Good night, Chet. Good night, David. And good night, for NBC News." This exchange became one of television's most famous catchphrases even though both Huntley and Brinkley initially disliked it.

Huntley handled the bulk of the news most nights, with Brinkley specializing in Washington (i.e., the White Housemarker, U.S. Congress, the Pentagonmarker) news. (Having two anchors also helped during vacation periods; one could handle the full show if necessary, leaving viewers with a familiar anchor instead of a little-known substitute such as a field reporter.) The closing credits music for the broadcast was the second movement (scherzo) of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony, from the 1952 studio recording with Arturo Toscanini conducting the NBC Symphony Orchestra.

Enter Texaco

Initially, the program lost audience from Swayze's program, and President Dwight D. Eisenhower let it be known that he was displeased by the switch. In the summer of 1957, the program had no advertisers. As its content improved, though, it began attracting critical praise and a larger audience, and by 1958, it had pulled even with CBS's program. The program received a big boost when, in June 1958, Texaco began purchasing all of its advertising, an arrangement that continued for three years.

Critical reception

Critics considered Huntley to possess one of the best broadcast voices ever heard, and Brinkley's dry, often witty, newswriting presented viewers a contrast to the often sober output from CBS News. The program received a Peabody Award in 1958 for "Outstanding Achievement in News," the awards committee noting that the anchors had "developed a mature and intelligent treatment of the news that has become a welcome and refreshing institution for millions of viewers." The program received the award again two years later in the same category, the committee concluding that Huntley and Brinkley had "dominated the news division of television so completely in the past year that it would be unthinkable to present a Peabody Award in that category to anybody else." By that time, the program had surpassed CBS's evening news program, Douglas Edwards with the News, in ratings and maintained higher viewership levels for much of the 1960s, even after Walter Cronkite took over CBS's competing program (initially named Walter Cronkite with the News in 1962 and renamed the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite in 1963). It received eight Emmy Awards in its 14-year run.

Huntley and Brinkley conveyed a strong chemistry, and a survey for NBC later found that viewers liked that the anchors talked to each other. In fact, aside from their sign-off, Huntley and Brinkley's only communication came when one anchor finished a story and handed off to the other by saying the other's name, a signal to an AT&T technician to switch the long-distance transmission lines from New York to Washington or vice versa. The anchors gained great celebrity, and surveys showed them better known than John Wayne, Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart, or the Beatles. In 1961, Frank Sinatra and Milton Berle entertained a crowd in Washington by singing, to the tune of "Love and Marriage," "Huntley,Brinkley/Huntley,Brinkley/One is glum, the other quite twinkly." The anchors appeared on the cover of Newsweek on March 13, 1961, with a similar tagline, "TV's Huntley and Brinkley: One is Solemn, the Other Twinkly." The impact of the Huntley-Brinkley Report on popular culture of the 1960s can be illustrated by a verse from the 1965 song "So Long, Mom (A Song for World War III)" by the satirist Tom Lehrer:

While we're attacking frontally,
Watch Brink-a-ley and Hunt-a-ley
Describing contrapuntally
The cities we have lost...


Ratings

By 1965, the program was the highest grossing on television. On November 15 of that year, The Huntley-Brinkley Report became the first weekday network evening news program broadcast in color. The network's weekend programs, Saturday's Scherer-MacNeil Report and Sunday's Frank McGee Report, were also broadcast in color at that time.

The program's ratings slipped late in the decade as CBS's Walter Cronkite gained fame for his coverage of the space program, a field neither Huntley nor Brinkley had much interest in. Some contemporary observers at NBC felt the program began to slip after a 1967 strike by members of AFTRA. Brinkley honored the picket lines but Huntley, who viewed himself as "a newsman, not a performer" did not, remaining at the anchor desk. This split puzzled viewers, who had come to admire them for their teamwork. Unbeknownst to most viewers, that relationship was fairly limited—Huntley and Brinkley operated from different cities and rarely met in person, except for live coverage of events.

Saturday evening broadcasts

For most of its run, The Huntley-Brinkley Report aired only Monday through Friday, but in January 1969, the network expanded it to Saturday evenings, with Huntley and Brinkley working solo on alternating weeks. After the Saturday edition failed to garner sufficient ratings to justify such talent, veteran correspondent Frank McGee took over as anchor, with Sander Vanocur substituting, and the broadcast took the name NBC Saturday Night News. The Frank McGee Report, not tied to the day's news, aired on Sundays in the time slot.

Huntley and Brinkley's final newscast

On February 16, 1970, NBC announced that Huntley would retire later that year. Huntley and Brinkley concluded their final newscast together on July 31, 1970, with the following parting words:

:Chet Huntley: And so, this difficult moment is here. In leaving this post after almost 14 years, I recommend to you The NBC Nightly News, which begins tomorrow. It will be in the most capable hands of David, John Chancellor and Frank McGee. I'll be watching, with interest and affection. I might also remind you that American journalism, all of it, is the best anywhere in the world. I want to thank the entire staff of NBC, for this nightly broadcast has not been an individual effort by any means. And as for you out there, I thank you first for your patience, then for your many kindnesses and the flattering things you have said and written. More difficult to take, to be sure, has been your criticism, but that, too, has been helpful, and, in most cases, valid. But you have bolsted my conviction that this land contains incredible quality and quantity of good, common sense, and it's in no danger of being led down a primrose path by a journalist. At the risk of sounding presumptuous, I would say to all of you: be patient and have courage, for there will be better and happier news one day, if we work at it. And David, thanks for these years of happy association, and for being such an easy colleague to work with, and for all the kindnesses.
:David Brinkley: Chet, I, too, would like to thank all of those who tuned us in and put up with us, particularly including those who write the nasty letters! McGee and Chancellor and I will be here every night, and we will miss you. Last night, NBC had a dinner for Chet and gave all of us a chance to say goodbye to him, and as a farewell gift, NBC gave him a horse. So Chet, when you ride away to the West to Montanamarker on your new horse, I will have to admit to at least a mild envy, and when you're out there under clear skies and clean air, maybe once in a while you will think of those of us still here, fighting the traffic, the transportation breakdowns, stress, pollution, and wondering what is left that we can eat, drink, smoke or breathe that will not kill us, and wondering what horror will be visited upon us next. In these years I have often been stopped in public by a cop who was polite who knew I was either Huntley or Brinkley, but weren't sure which and so they have asked, so from now on, when somebody stops me in the street and says, "Aren't you Chet Huntley?", I have an answer: it is "No, ma'am, he is the one out West on a horse!" I really don't want to say it, but the time has come, and so, for the last time, good luck...and good night, Chet.
:Chet Huntley: Good luck, David, and good night, for NBC News.


Upon Huntley's retirement, the network renamed the program the NBC Nightly News. Huntley died in 1974. Brinkley worked as co-anchor or commentator on Nightly News before leaving NBC for ABC in 1981. He died in 2003.

Notes

  1. Frank, Reuven. Out of Thin Air: The Brief Wonderful Life of Network News (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991), pp. 178-82.
  2. Whitworth, William. "An Accident of Casting," The New Yorker 1968-08-03, p. 48.
  3. Caudell, Robin. "Time on his side," PressRepublican.com 2008-07-30 (retrieved 2009-07-04).
  4. Matusow, Barbara. The Evening Stars: The Making of the Network News Anchor (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983), p. 69.
  5. Frank, Reuven. Out of Thin Air: The Brief Wonderful Life of Network News (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991), p. 110.
  6. Murray, Michael D., ed. Encyclopedia of Television News (Oryx Press, 1999), p. 32.
  7. Frank, Reuven. Out of Thin Air: The Brief Wonderful Life of Network News (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991), p. 110.
  8. Matusow, Barbara. The Evening Stars: The Making of the Network News Anchor (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983), p. 73.
  9. Matusow, Barbara. The Evening Stars: The Making of the Network News Anchor (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1983), p. 76.
  10. Frank, Reuven. Out of Thin Air: The Brief Wonderful Life of Network News (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991), p. 121.
  11. Peabody Awards, The Huntley Brinkley Report 1958.
  12. Peabody Awards, The Texaco Huntley-Brinkley Report 1960
  13. Frank, Reuven. Out of Thin Air: The Brief Wonderful Life of Network News (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1991), p. 111-12.
  14. Whitworth, William. "An Accident of Casting," The New Yorker 1968-08-03, p. 34.
  15. Walter Shapiro, "'Twinkley' Brinkley a sad loss for news, politics," USA Today (2003-06-12)
  16. "Huntley-Brinkley's Chunk of Crinkly," TIME (1965-04-02).


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